Kenya is an East African country situated between two war-torn countries, Somalia and Uganda. The country is a low income, food-deficient country where 52 percent of people live below the poverty line, 40 percent are unemployed and 1.3 million live with HIV/AIDS. Despite the threat of natural disasters and violence, women’s empowerment in Kenya is also a major issue.
Kenya has many patriarchal systems in place, including one known as “beading”. Beading is a practice where girls as young as age six are engaged to a male relative and are allowed to have sexual relations. They do not allow pregnancy because they believe having a baby will lower the girl’s chances of getting married. The only concern is for the girl’s future marriageability, not the fact that the girl has most likely has suffered physical harm and mental trauma. The Children Act (2006) and the Sexual Offenses Bill (2001) were put in place to protect women from rape and incest, but beading is socially accepted within certain tribes, who believe it to be a part of their culture.
In addition to the practice of beading, there are ceremonies for female genital mutilation (FGM). Nearly 140 million girls around the world are living with the consequences of FGM. While Kenya has banned the practice, there are still some communities that participate in the ceremony. Kenya has created a prosecution unit to stop the mutilation from happening, but some parents take their daughters to more remote regions to have them undergo FGM. It is so integral to some communities that if a young girl does not undergo the practice, she will face stigma and alienation.
There are certain social, political and economic contexts that show the different layers of beliefs in Kenya that contribute to practices like beading and FGM. Kenya fits the description of a patriarchal society, where women are marginalized and dominated by men. The profound gender disparities caused by the patriarchal norms and laws have brought about steady attacks on women’s rights to land and property. Women make up about 80 percent of the workforce, but Kenyan women only hold about 1 percent of land titles in their names. Addressing women’s rights requires strategic interventions at all levels of programming and policymaking. The United Nations Population Fund suggests that the focus be on certain areas that are critical and compromised, like giving women control over their lives and bodies, as well as economic, educational and political empowerment, to encourage women’s empowerment in Kenya.
With these traditional ideas of what a woman’s role should be in Kenya, women are held back from contributing to important development goals. However, the new constitution, passed in 2010, provides methods to address gender equality. Marking a new beginning for women’s empowerment in Kenya, there is a movement to stop excluding women and promote their involvement in every aspect of growth and development in the country.
With the help of USAID, there are plans to create safe societies where women and girls can live free from violence, provide care and treatment services for victims, strengthen women’s access to resources and opportunities to expand economic growth, increase the participation of women in policies at all levels, ensure women have a role in peacebuilding and conflict prevention and narrow the gender gaps in education and learning. Women’s empowerment in Kenya has come a long way and is making progress.
– Chavez Spicer